Thomas Heberer/Achim Kaufmann

Red Toucan Records # RT 9347

By Ken Waxman

Following a 30-year gestation period, long-time friends, pianist Achim Kaufmann and trumpeter Thomas Heberer have recorded their first-ever duo disc. In some ways this program of high-quality European improv was worth the wait. On the other hand because of the talents exhibited here you wish they would have recorded duets before this.

Teenage conservatory roommates and jobbers, Heberer, who plays trumpet and quarter-tone trumpet here, and Kaufmann who ruminates on piano and prepared piano, subsequently established themselves elsewhere. Today, the NYC-based trumpeter is best-known as a member of Amsterdam’s ICP Orchestra, while the pianist, now a Berliner, is occupied in many Continental ensembles, most notably with German reedist Frank Gratkowski and Dutch bassist Wilbert de Joode.

With all tracks credited to Kaufman, Heberer or both, the nine selections are concerned with tryouts and tropes, not story-telling, with the two experienced players uncovering novel ways to meld or contrast textures and timbres. This is facilitated with extensions available from the quarter-tone and prepared instruments. For instance the piano string stops, strums and plucks gradually insinuate themselves within the jerky narrative of “Mâchoire” after Kaufmann’s methodical note placement angles that way. In reaction Heberer turns from open-horn note sprays to baby whines and dog yelping simulations without altering the mid-tempo melody.

The CD appears to have been released in the order in which it was recorded, since by mid-session both men relax enough to put aside their more measured and hesitant byplay for erudite humor. For example the pianist’s warm voicing on “Großer Onkel” is interrupted by the trumpeter`s razzing lip burbles before the two attain a staccato blend of key clipping and metal buzzing. In a similar fashion, Kaufman’s comping turns from soothing to jagged on “Ohrschuft”, the better to push Heberer’s legato phrasing into a collaborative theme.

Knoten translates as “knots”, and the trumpeter’s unfinished phrase at the finale of “Kleimasker”, the final selection, suggests the two are prepared to untangle a few more knots on a future date. On the evidence here, hopefully they will.

Tracks: Am Hang; Oscillator Dog; Baumhaus; Mâchoire; Neuntöner; Großer Onkel; Ohrschuft; Kleiner Stromer; Kleimasker

Personnel: Thomas Heberer: trumpet, quarter-tone trumpet; Achim Kaufmann: piano, prepared piano

—For The New York City Jazz Record September 2013